Race to the Bottom: Impact of Deep-Sea Fishing Severely Underestimated

Date: April 16, 2018

Source: Oceans Deeply 
Author: Alastair Bland

BY DRAGGING HEAVY nets across the seafloor, bottom trawling has long been regarded as among the most indiscriminate and destructive of fishing methods. Now new research shows that fishery managers may have grossly underestimated the global impacts of trawling for decades.

A team of scientists from institutions around the world studied global catch data for a 65-year period beginning in 1950. They concluded that deep-sea trawling – an especially lethal fishing technique that deploys industrial-scale gear at depths greater than 400m (1,300ft) – caught and killed nearly 80 percent more fish than experts had previously estimated. Their analysis shows that the fishery may have taken 25 million tons of marine life – especially species such as Greenland halibut, Longfin codling, grenadiers and orange roughy – whereas the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recorded only 14 million tons.

“We would expect this fishery to be very impactful, but to find that landings were almost 50 percent unreported – that was very surprising,” said Deng Palomares, a senior scientist at the University of British Columbia who collaborated on the research.

Lissette Victorero, a PhD student at the National Oceanography Centre in the United Kingdom, led the study, which was published on Wednesday in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science. She and her coauthors looked at a recently updated inventory of catch data that includes both catches reported to the FAO and estimated unreported catches – a category widely dismissed by official record keepers.

The unreported catches came from a project called the Sea Around Us, which has spent years retroactively correcting the historical catch record. Scientists with Sea Around Us have found that much more fish has been caught since 1950 than has been officially reported. The project has been both criticized as recklessly speculative and commended as a direly needed correction to existing fishery data banks.

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